According to Gallup’s latest Governance poll, 49 percent of Americans say government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens – consistent with previous surveys conducted over the past four to five years, but significantly higher than in 2003 when less than a third of Americans (30 percent) felt that way.
We began to see a notable rise from 2003-2005 when 30 percent jumped to 37 percent of Americans who were fearful of government overreach. In just one year though (from 2005-2006), those numbers jumped an equal seven points to 44 percent marking a significant change in Americans’ view and the rise has held steady.
Not surprisingly, party plays a role. During President George W. Bush’s presidency, Democrats and left-leaning independents were consistently more likely than Republicans and right-leaning independents to say the federal government poses an immediate threat. That partisan gap flipped during the President Barak Obama’s presidency. This suggests then that a deep-seated distrust for government may not be as strong a motivator as is antipathy to the party controlling the White House. Although for Republicans against Obama, agreement with the threat statement is much higher than for Democrats against Bush.
Overall, one in four Americans who think that the government is an immediate threat say it’s too big and too powerful and generates too many laws. Another 15 percent say government violates freedom and civil liberties and intrudes too much into our private lives. Second Amendment violations ranks third among those sentiments as well. However, taxation, over-regulation, and spending register in the single digits, suggesting that those are not big areas for concern.
Gallup explains the implications:
The fact that almost half of Americans see the federal government as an immediate threat to their lives and freedoms may appear alarming at first, perhaps conjuring an image of Americans worrying that the government will be breaking down their doors and engaging in random arrests of private citizens.
Clearly, there has been tension between the government and the people at many times in history since that point, and it may be that such tensions are a natural part of the system by which the people willingly give up power to government institutions that in turn intrude on their daily lives.
Still, the persistent finding in recent years that half of the population views the government as an immediate threat underscores the degree to which the role and power of government remains a key issue of our time…
From the people's perspective, then, a focus on the appropriate role for government should be at the forefront of the nation's continuing political discourse and should be a key point of debate in the current presidential election campaigns.
This healthy distrust is not likely to disappear anytime soon. However, we can’t ignore that federal agencies, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the White House fan some of this antipathy with the sweeping national policies they pursue. The size and scope of our federal government has grown under the past two administrations in different ways and for different reasons: TSA, national defense, the monstrous Affordable Care Act law, environmental regulations, and workforce mandates.
Perhaps what is driving this fear among Americans is that we tend to be left out of the political process and –at best- are only able to hold elected officials accountable after the fact in the ballot box, which is often months and years removed from when policy is made. For the federal bureaucratic octopus, those decisions are made apart from very little, if any, public input by those who have zero fear of removal from their posts.
Distrust is likely to only grow stronger regardless of who is in power as we grow increasingly more partisan. However the role of government in our lives is a foundation issue that we cannot ignore.